Before I got married, I had my own life, my own money, car, a successful career as a military officer…this sister was doing it for herself. I did not subscribe to the whole “I’m good by myself. I don’t want or need a man” delusion, either. I was willing to patiently wait and live life to the fullest while determining which choice I was going to make in who I wanted to marry (brothers were sending in their resumes, believe me). I had it all together, I knew what I wanted in life, and I was enjoying the gift I had been given.
Then life took another turn. I met my husband, fell in love, said yes to his proposal and then said “I do.” It seems like all hell broke out after that! The honeymoon didn’t last very long, because when you have two people from different backgrounds and frames of reference, sparks are bound to fly. We fussed ALL.THE.TIME. Five months into our marriage, I was pregnant, which exacerbated the arguments because my hormones were out of control. Somewhere along the way, I got tired of fussing, so I just shut down. It was difficult at first, but eventually it got easier and easier until I had totally succumbed to the “Lost Identity Syndrome.” It’s the syndrome where a spouse compromises who they are in order to avoid the negative (but necessary) aspects of a relationship.
What happens when you lose part of yourself in a marriage? If you have allowed yourself to become a victim of it, how can you get back to who you really are? How can you prevent it from happening?
I would love to say that only weak minded individuals succumb to such a vicious cycle of compromise, but I am proof positive that is not the case. I am not saying my experience is the textbook example, but I will say that anyone in this syndrome experiences emotions that are designed to be released. If they are not released in a healthy manner, those very emotions will turn against an individual in various ways. The following things happened to me:
- Lower immunity to sickness (I caught a cold for the first time in over 10 years after I got married)
- Respiratory problems
I got to the point where I wanted to leave, or if I had to stay, I wanted one of us to die. I had become a victim, and I didn’t know how to bring myself back from it. I was a zombie in my own home, completing the job of being married like it was a mundane and miserable thing. Someone asked me one day how married life was treating me, and I just rolled my eyes and walked away. I was distracted, unfulfilled and void of any semblance of the inner joy I’d had prior to getting married.
One day, I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t even know the person looking back at me. I had gained weight, my eyes were baggy, my smile was gone…I was just a shell of who I had been before. I made the decision at that point to get back to life…back to reality…back to the here and now.
It really doesn’t matter why you make that decision if you’ve succumbed to this vicious syndrome. What matters is that the decision is made! After much counsel from my mama (who is a professional counseling psychologist), my pastors (a husband and wife team) and support from my husband, who always found himself caught in the crossfire between who I WAS and the shell I had become, I finally decided that enough was enough.
- I did a personal inventory of what it was I was unhappy about and made a game plan to change it. For me, the weight and the unwise financial decisions had to change through a workout regiment and sound fiscal discipline. I couldn’t change the fact that I’d gotten pregnant well before planned, but I definitely could decide to be a better mother to my son.
- I learned how to differentiate between being a submissive wife and being a wife who was nothing but a “yes man.” If something was bothering me, it was incumbent upon me to let it be known.
- I learned that I DO have a voice in our relationship. I had silenced it because I was tired of fussing. I had to learn how to express my ideas and philosophy without taking in personal if my husband disagreed or chose to go in a different direction
- I had to look at the good things about my husband instead of harping on the things about him that irked my nerves. He’s an awesome father, he loves me unconditionally, he loves the Lord with all his might, he’s humble and teachable.
- I had to understand that the things that irked my nerves about my husband, if they weren’t showstoppers like pedophilia, abuse or adultery, then I was willing to learn how to live with them. Him being a loud and messy eater or him walking out of his clothes bothered me, but not enough to terminate our relationship
- I had to learn that the only person’s actions I have any control over are my own.
On that last point, I chose not to write about my husband’s behavior for that very reason. He and I have grown together tremendously since the first 18 months of our marriage, and we’re both still very much in love and, praise God, we haven’t killed one another!
I am so grateful to the Lord for waking me up and helping me make the decision to allow my voice to be heard, regardless of the temporary discomfort that disagreements caused me. I truly wish that I had never fallen into this trap, but now that I have gradually come out, I can pinpoint areas that would cause me to fall back into a prison within myself. For those of you who have never fallen victim to the “Lost Identity Syndrome,” here are some warning signals to watch out for:
- Backing away from confrontation to avoid the temporary unpleasantness of the discussion. The only way your spouse will know where you stand is if YOU communicate it
- When what used to bring you joy is now only a mundane task, i.e. sex, cooking, showing signs of affection.
- You don’t want to leave your workplace because you feel you get more affirmation there than at home
- You have seriously considered divorce after an argument
- You run out of energy and find yourself wanting to sleep more or isolate yourself (now keep in mind, some personalities just like the serenity of solitude, but if you find yourself doing this and you’re generally a people person, that’s a huge red flag)
My prayer as you read this will be that you never fall victim to the trap you set for yourself by shutting down and losing your identity in your marriage. However, if you do, I am proof positive that you can come “Back to life…back to reality…back to the here and now.”
Harriet is a hilariously joyful married woman who resides in northeast Louisiana with her husband who is a restaurant manager. She works for a local University and along with her husband is the proud parent of a 3 year old son and a 10 year old stepson (who lives in NC).